|Text: Luke 2:10-14
The angel said to them (the shepherds), "Don't be afraid! I am here with good news for you, which will bring great joy to all the people. This very day in David's town your Saviour was bornóChrist the Lord! And this is what will prove it to you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger." Suddenly a great army of heaven's angels appeared with the angel, singing praises to God: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!"
What an impact the events of this past year have had on our lives. This year will certainly be remembered long into the future as the year Australians lost their security and feeling of safety because of the Bali bombings. When the terrorist attacks occurred in the USA the impact was felt on this side of the world. We all suddenly felt very vulnerable and our level of fear increased. But with the events that happened in Bali, right on our own doorstep, and involving the loss of life of so many Australian lives, our fears have increased to epidemic proportions. If it can happen there, it can happen anywhere in our country.
Almost weekly the media reports threats that individuals and organisations have made against Australia and Australians. The holiday destinations within our country are reporting full houses because people are afraid to travel overseas. This is not part of the Australian way of life. These kinds of things happen in other places far away Ė they donít happen here. It would be correct to say that our safety has never been threatened in such a way since World War 2 came to our shores when Darwin was bombed. We have this strange feeling that the coming year will bring an increase in our fear.
We can add to this the talk of war. World leaders are saying that the New Year will bring war with Iraq.
This year will also be remembered as the year of the big drought. We have seen on our TV screens the devastation that the lack of rain has caused to many rural areas. Some towns and districts are on water restrictions. And when there is a drought the risk of bushfire is a constant threat. This year has seen devastating bushfires that have laid waste large areas of our country and destroyed properties and homes. The drought is still with us and as we look to the future we wonder just what 2003 will bring. Where will the next fire break out? What will happen if this drought continues much longer?
When we look to the Middle East we see continuing raids and attacks, car bombings, loss of life and things look about as unsettled as they have ever been. In Africa people are starving. In other places people are crowded in refugee camps that lack a simple basic human need - like clean drinking water. Thousands upon thousands of people of all ages have little hope for the future.
And our lives? Some of you will look back on this year as one of the most difficult years. For some it has been a year where the dam walls have finally burst and you face a difficult year ahead. Whether itís your marriage, your loss of work opportunities, struggles with your children, financial things, your health Ė your heart is filled with fear over what the coming year might bring.
It is into this world of fear, danger, uncertainty and suffering that God sent his Son. When you look carefully at the Christmas story as told in the Bible, you soon find out that the world that Jesus was born into was a very uncertain and dangerous place. The circumstances of Jesus birth brought hardship into the lives of those who first loved him. The angelís message to Mary, that she would become pregnant and give birth to a baby boy, must have been mind blowing for the young teenager. The news of Maryís pregnancy certainly upset her fiancť Joseph to the point of wanting to break off their relationship.
As the time grew near for Mary to give birth, the Roman emperor ordered that everyone should return to his or her hometown for the purpose of a census. It was a long way from Nazareth to Bethlehem for a woman so heavily pregnant. When they got there, the place was crowded and there was nowhere to stay. In a smelly animal shelter, Jesus came into this world. His first bed was a feeding trough Ė a manger. His first home Ė a place where animals were kept.
The country where Jesus was born was a hotbed of dissent and insurrection Ė under Roman rule. There had been one bloody revolt against the Romans after another. We know that when King Herod heard that a king had been born, in a jealous rage he ordered the murder of the innocent baby boys of Bethlehem. As parents wept for they dead babies, Joseph, Mary and the baby Jesus escaped like refugees to Egypt.
When we think of Jesusí birth, thoughts of bright angels, sweet smelling hay, an adorable baby, and loving parents looking on as shepherds and wisemen bow before the manger. Itís easy to get caught up in a very charming and delightful image of the birth of Jesus. In actual fact, it was God's deliberate plan that his Son would be born into a world of fear, upsets, hurt, disappointments, trouble, poverty, hardship, and murder.
We are told that the timing of Jesusí birth was not an accident. God chose the precise time or as the Bible says, "in the fullness of time" or "when the right time finally came, God sent his own Son" (Gal 4:4). It was God's plan that the tiny, fragile and dependent new life not be born into a sheltered and privileged family but in one that felt the full force of a destructive and violent world. In fact, just as violence marked his birth so also his life ended with violence.
The world hasnít changed one bit. As we celebrate Jesusí birth today, we are well aware of the fear, the violence and the lack of peace that dominates our world and our lives at this very moment.
Jesus was born into our world to bring us peace.
The angels sang, praising God for the peace he had brought to earth through the
birth of the baby in Bethlehem. But the birth of the Saviour in Davidís town
didnít stop Herodís murderous plans; it didnít banish the Romans from
nor has it stopped the hunger, the homelessness, the wars and rebellions in our world today.
In an ideal world Christís rule would mean peace and end to threats of war in Iraq and all terrorist activity, but sin still rules the lives of people.
In our own lives, just because we are here
worshipping the Prince of Peace today, doesnít mean that the pain and
suffering and strife in our lives has been banished forever. We will continue to
be sick, to grieve and to fear what the future will hold for us.
Failing marriages will continue to fail,
dying people will continue to die,
wars will continue to be waged,
children will continue to be disobedient and rebellious,
parents will continue to fail to be good parents.
Some people blame God for the way our world is. However, in every case where there is no peace the blame rests fairly and squarely on the people of this world. Sin has taken control of peopleís lives.
It will only be at Christís Second Coming that true and perfect peace will encompass the earth. The prophet Isaiah tries to describe the kind of peace that Christís rule will bring when he comes in power and glory. He says, Wolves and sheep will live together in peace, and leopards will lie down with young goats. Calves and lion cubs will feed together, and little children will take care of them. Even a baby will not be harmed if it plays near a poisonous snake. (Isaiah 11:6,8). The Bible promises total and complete peace and healing when all those who have faith in Jesus reach heaven. There will be no more crying, or death or grieving in heaven where the Prince of Peace lives and rules.
Meantime until that day when Jesus comes
again, God has given us Jesus as our Immanuel Ė God with us. God is more than
an abstract being, distant and separate from us. God deeply desires to know you
on an intimate, relational level. God in Christ has come close to you - that's
why he chose to become an earthly baby in a manger in such a troubled world.
In Jesus, God is with you when you are depressed and hurting.
In Jesus, God is with you when you are sick and sorrowful.
In Jesus, God is with you when you are feeling guilty and ashamed.
In Jesus, God is with you when you are filled with fear and worried about your safety.
In Jesus, God is with you when you face your day of dying.
A young man was facing surgery. The surgeon said to him, "I must operate right away. I think I ought to tell you that you have one chance in a hundred of coming through. Do you still want me to go ahead? " The young man answered, "Yes. If I come through this, my mum will be there to greet me when I wake up. If I donít, Jesus will welcome me into heaven. So letís get on with it."
You see, when tragedy and numbing fear fills our lives, trusting in Jesus, our hearts are filled with peace and hope. How many times have I marvelled at the complete calm and peace that people with faith in Jesus have demonstrated when faced with a dangerous and difficult situation Ė maybe surgery, their own imminent death, the funeral of someone dear or the life threatening illness of a spouse or parent? The fear and dread they should have been feeling had been replaced with peace. They knew that whatever happened, God was with them.
At the first Christmas not many realised that the baby in the manger was born for a special task, in fact, not many realise it today. This little baby on the sweet-smelling hay is God come to bring you and me peace Ė the peace that comes from knowing that no matter what may happen to us, we have a God who loved us and will always walk with us through times of fear and danger.
Itís no wonder the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom he is pleased!"
© Pastor Vince
25th December, 2002
Except where otherwise noted, Scripture quotations are from Good News Bible: Today's English Version (TEV), revised edition, © American Bible Society 1966, 1971, 1976, 1992, 1994, inclusive language with Australian usage text, 1994